The Forgotten 8x57
By Ed Turner
By golly I think I may just have stumbled onto something here. Something new and refreshing and, gee, only a bit over 100 years old. What am I talking about? Why it's that classic and very versatile cartridge, the 8MM Mauser (8X57 S or JS version). The "new" improved (make that the .323 version vs. the original .318) version of the 8MM Mauser that has been with us for over 100 years. It still seems to be among the most misunderstood and under appreciated cartridges in the U.S.
There are some other classic European calibers that we seem to almost completely ignore, the 7x64, 9.3X74R and 9.3X62 being examples. (There are articles about all of these, including the 8x57 Mauser, on the Rifle Cartridge Page. -Ed.) But it's my contention that the old, plain Jane, 8MM Mauser is one that we, at least I, have really been downright dumb about.
How I, as someone who literally pours over ballistics tables and the like, could have neglected this fine old caliber for the first 30+ years of my deer hunting career I'll never know. It may be partly due to the fact that not one of my hunting buddies has ever so much as mentioned the cartridge, never mind hunted with a rifle so chambered.
It is likely that more rifles are sold in this country to be used for deer hunting than for any other single reason. And, that being the case, we are simply ignoring one absolutely wonderful cartridge that seems to be just what the doctor ordered for the American deer hunter. Imagine how wonderful it would be to have one rifle that easily duplicated the ballistics of the two most popular deer rounds in the U.S.A.
I'm going to take a minute and explain how (before continuing with this line of thought) I became so interested in the 8MM. Of course, I had heard about it years ago and seen it in many ballistics tables and such. As I mentioned before, no one I knew had ever used one to hunt deer.
I finally happened to notice some new rounds advertised for the "8" and made in Europe by a manufacturer new to me. I saw a load right off that I knew duplicated or exceeded many .30-06 loads, along with easily beating the low-powered loads for the 8mm Mauser produced domestically by our big ammunition companies. This, coupled with a real killer deal on a Remington Model 700 Classic rifle produced only in 8x57 caliber in 2004 that came to my attention, got me my first 8x57 rifle.
A quick note here. For those of you not familiar with the site Gunsamerica, that is where I found my 700C in 8MM for $390, delivery included to a FFL holder of my choice. There are some very good deals to be found there, a lot of firearms being sold by collectors and dealers alike. Of course, like anything else there are some ridiculous prices as well. I have likely purchased around 10 or 12 firearms through the site and have been pleased with all.
Before I even had a chance to sight in my new toy, I bought an 8MM military Mauser 98 that had been professionally sporterized. It was a decent enough looking rifle in the pictures on the Gunsamerica site, but the real appeal for me was the finely figured, classic styled walnut stock. It was uncheckered, but with very nice grain, which made this one good looking hunting rifle. The steps in the barrel had been turned down and the barrel was trimmed back to 22" in length. The bolt handle had been replaced by one designed to clear a scope and a low-swing safety installed.
I immediately struck a deal with the seller (a gunsmith in Arizona who had not been paid for his work on this rifle) and now owned my second 8x57. I mounted 2-7x32mm scopes on both rifles. One was a camo Nikon Prostaff, to match the camo stock I had gotten for the 700C, the other a used Tasco World Class W/A. This scope has been mounted on several rifles I have owned, and every time I tell myself to change it out for a better scope. But I can't bear to part with it, as it is nice and clear with a good duplex reticle and decent brightness.
Now back to my earlier line of thought of how this one rifle caliber duplicates two others' ballistics so closely. The two tremendously popular rounds it mirrors happen to be the .30-30 and .308 Winchester. Yup, you can buy off the shelf ammo that will allow you to nearly duplicate 30/30 ballistics (with a 170 grain bullet) and other factory loaded ammunition that equals standard loads for the 180 grain .308.
As a matter of fact, I will go out on a limb here and say that using off the shelf ammo and needing or wanting a gun for CPX3 game in North America, you'd be better off with an 8x57 than a .30-06. Yup, I would.
Here are some numbers to prove my point (muzzle velocity in fps / muzzle energy in ft. lbs.)
And here are some other common loadings to compare with the 8x57, just for fun.
I do realize that the 8MM Mauser is not considered a medium bore rifle, but these calibers, I think, are aptly compared as far as deer hunting is concerned. What we have here is one caliber pleasant enough to shoot with typical loadings and at typical woods ranges for Whitetail deer, essentially duplicating our most famous deer rounds, the .30-30 and .32 Win. Special / 170 grain loads. And, merely by changing loads to something from Seller & Bellot or Norma, we have this pussy cat beginning to roar with the energy of a .30-06. I, for one, like that idea. I am not a handloader, but in the 8x57 I think we have what's typically been a handloader's way to vary a rifle's capability.
Two more points that I'd like to make here, if I may. The loads mentioned here for all the calibers, except for the Federal Premium .30-06/180 and Stars and Stripes 8x57/180 loads that use Barnes X-Bullets, are of the typical variety. By which I mean that they are moderately priced ammo loaded with standard bullets. Some of the Norma 8x57 rounds do become a bit pricey, but both Sellier & Bellot and Wolf Gold (also from Europe) are very bargain priced, to the tune of about $15/box from some mail order businesses (plus delivery).
"Cheaper than Dirt" and the oft mentioned "Stars and Stripes Custom Ammunition" (official ammunition supplier to Guns and Shooting Online) are two very good places to start a search for inexpensive 8MM rounds. Avoid surplus military ammo, though, as some of the surplus ammo being sold is corrosive.
I finally got the scopes mounted and boresighted and headed out to the range to get both my new 8x57's sighted in. One with the typical American low-powered loads, the other with the hotter European ones.
Both rifles were sighted in very quickly, and the last 3 shots fired at 100 yards had the old timer out shooting the youngster (700 Classic). Of course I had still only run a little more than a handful of shells through this brand new gun, but it was woods ready, having shot a 2" group at that range with the S&B 196 grain load. The sporterized military rifle was sighted-in with typical American 170 grain loads.
I did hunt with both rifles this year, passing up a doe and small buck with the Mauser and harvesting a big whitetail doe with the Remington Classic. Nothing exciting to report, as the rifle and bullet performed as I would have figured. The doe was shot at about 65 yards, and the bullet went in on the left side, midway down the rib cage, and exited just behind the offside shoulder, just as it should with a quartering away shot. The deer ran perhaps 35 or 40 yards, and then simply collapsed.
I had hoped to shoot another deer with the lower powered American loading, but I guess it just wasn't meant to be. I happened to find another box of the 196 grain loads at a recent gun show at a very good price, and likely both rifles will be shooting the hotter load next season, as I didn't mind the recoil at all.
So, what's not to like? The 8x57 is effective, versatile, and economical to shoot. By simply buying one box or another of inexpensive cartridges you have different loads with which to hunt anything from deer to moose. I think that you may be impressed if you give this oldie but goody a try, particularly if you want something a little different to tote into the woods. Just imagine the look on your buddies' faces when you tell them, "Why, it's an 8MM Mauser."
A vote of thanks for the extensive and informative ballistics tables found here on Guns and Shooting Online, which made it simple to find most of the numbers used in this article. See the Tables, Charts and Lists Page.
Note: There is an another full length article about the 8x57 on the Rifle Cartridge Page.
Copyright 2007 by Ed Turner. All rights reserved.
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